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New era in N.C. politics: GOP in, Dems out
Agenda swings to conservative control
 
Published Thursday, January 10, 2013 7:40 am
by Herbert L. White

North Carolina political muscle belongs completely to Republicans, who control both chambers of the General Assembly and the governor’s mansion.

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North Carolina Republicans hold the gavel in the state House and Senate as well as the governor’s mansion with Pat McCrory succeeding Democrat Bev Perdue.


With Governor Pat McCrory’s swearing-in on Jan. 5, the GOP controls every branch of state government. As a result of redistricting that ensured a Republican advantage, the GOP has a 77-43 majority in the House of Representatives and a 32-18 bulge in the Senate.


“Basically, the Republicans and Pat McCrory can do what they want to do,” said Davidson College political science professor Susan Roberts. “It’s just a matter of the priority.”


For Democratic lawmakers, the 2013 session cements the party’s minority role for the foreseeable future, but reduced clout doesn’t mean going totally silent. N.C. Sen. Malcolm Graham, a Charlotte Democrat, said the party’s best strategy is to counter absolute GOP power with progressive alternatives.


“Our perspective is do what we can, which is not very much,” he said. “We don’t have the numbers in the Senate, we don’t have the numbers in the House. Certainly we don’t have the governor’s mansion. From the Democratic perspective, our goal is to be an honest broker and tell citizens across the state the impact of the priorities of the Republicans.”


McCrory sounded a conciliatory note shortly after taking office.


“Our goal was not to get a title,” he said. “Our goal was to lead and govern and serve with a purpose, and that’s what we’re going to begin doing today. We’re going to have some tough work ahead of us, but we all love our state and we care for the next generation of leaders for our state so they have the same quality of life that we’ve enjoyed for so many years.”


Roberts maintains McCrory and GOP lawmakers will need to work together in pursuit of a singular agenda, a departure from the previous four years when former governor Bev Perdue, a Democrat, often sparred with the Republican majority in the General Assembly. As governor, it’ll be incumbent upon McCrory to set the tone.


“I think it’s a question of how McCrory works with the leadership,” she said. “I think he’s going to have a very good relationship with the Republicans and that’s mostly what he needs. I think they’re going to look for McCrory to set the tone in Raleigh.”


The legislative plate is bound to be full. McCrory has stressed rewriting the state tax code and economic development as high on his priority list. Hot-button issues like the voter identification law Perdue vetoed last year or the Racial Justice Act that GOP lawmakers want scuttled may move further down the priority list.


“I don’t think he’s going to want some piece of legislation right off the bat that is more ideological,” Roberts said. “I think he’s going to say ‘I’m for all North Carolina and get economic reform, tax reform, budgeting and not come right out of the gate looking too ideological.”


“A lot of what we do here centers around the budget,” said Jordan Shaw, spokesman for House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Republican from Cornelius. “We’ll be working on things like regulatory reform.…We’ll also look at tackling big problems that have gone without action for too long like unemployment insurance reform. We’ll be looking at some issues that may be coming down from the federal government” such as the Affordable Care Act.


Graham said McCrory has already sent signs that he’ll govern as a conservative rather than the centrist tack he took as Charlotte mayor. His appointment of Art Pope, a major financier of right-wing causes and candidates, as budget writer and former Wake County schools superintendent Tony Tata as transportation secretary surprised political observers.


“The governor selecting Art Pope as budget director should give everyone grave concern,” Graham said. “This guy has said in previous statements that Smart Start and early childhood education need to go and so what budget the governor submits and the General Assembly accepts will have a wide range of impact throughout the community.”


Said Roberts: “They’re going to be looking at the budget, funding of schools and I think also renewable energy. That’s a big consideration. I think one of his priorities is … to make some difficult choices about how he reconciles the philosophy that he campaigned on, that (he would be) governor of all the people… to be moderate.”


Graham, who is a contender for leader of the Mecklenburg County delegation, said Democrats will have to do their part to hold McCrory – and by extension his party – to that pledge, even if they’re likely to lose most, if not all, of the debates.


 “We’ve got to at least work with them so they don’t do too much damage,” Graham said. “We’ll try to buffer what they try to do by offering amendments they may or may not accept. There’s not a whole lot we can do to stop them from doing anything, really.”

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